One of the MS-13 gang’s rules is to never cooperate with law enforcement. The punishment for breaking it ranges from a beating by fellow gang members or being “green lighted,” gang parlance for being marked for death.
On Monday, three members broke ranks with the violent street gang by pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with authorities and testify against fellow gang members if called upon to do so. Standing before a federal judge, two admitted to their roles in the murder of a drug dealer at a DeKalb County hotel and one pleaded guilty to his role in the twisted killing of a rival gang member in Gwinnett County.
The three men are among 26 MS-13 gang members who were indicted two years ago and accused of cold-blooded, indiscriminate violence. Many worked menial day jobs and some still lived at home with their parents. They are charged with committing seven murders dating back to October 2006, including a brazen killing of a rival 16-year-old gang member in a gas station parking lot on Jimmy Carter Boulevard and the murder of one of their own, an MS-13 member called “Lucky” who they believed had become a snitch for the cops.
The three defendants who pleaded guilty Monday were the first in the case to agree to cooperate with the ongoing federal prosecution. They entered their pleas before what is expected to be the first of a series of trials to accommodate all the defendants.
Members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, typically come from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The gang, which originated in Los Angeles, has been one of the country’s fastest growing. Its creed: “rape, kill, control.”
To join the gang, a budding member is “jumped in” — an initiation where other members beat the new member until a gang member finishes counting out loud to 13. Gang members contributed dues to buy guns, help fellow members post bond after they’ve been arrested and provide money for inmate jail accounts for those unable to get bond, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Jones said Monday.
MS-13 members knew one another only by their nicknames — such as “Joker,” “Pink Panther,” “Whiskey” and “Scooby” — so no member could reveal another member’s true identity to the cops, Jones said.
Kenedis “Mago” Bonilla pleaded guilty to his role in the Dec. 24, 2006, killing of Angel Gonzalez.
Shortly before the murder, fellow MS-13 gang member Miguel “Blacky” Guevara had announced he wanted out of MS-13 because it was too violent, a close friend of his had just been killed and he was getting married, Jones said. But before Guevara could “calm down” — or leave the gang — it was decreed that he had to earn it by killing a rival gang member.
Bonilla, a 30-year-old native of El Salvador, admitted Monday to being Guevara’s driver to help him seal the deal. They waited outside El Chaparral, a Buford Highway nightclub and Northside gang hangout, until they saw a Toyota Corolla with two Northside gang members drive away, Jones said.
With Guevara riding shotgun and a handgun in his lap, Bonilla followed the Corolla north up I-85 and pulled alongside it after it turned onto Ga. 316. Guevara fired shots into the Corolla, hitting the driver in the arm and killing Gonzalez with a shot to his head, Jones said.
According to court records, Guevara was ecstatic after being told he was allowed to leave MS-13. But a year later, witnesses told police, he was back in the fold. He is also among the 26 under indictment and now faces the prospect of Bonilla testifying against him at trial.
If convicted at trial, Bonilla faced a sentence of life in prison without parole. Because of Bonilla’s cooperation, Jones said he would recommend that Bonilla serve 22 years in federal prison when he is sentenced at a later date.
Omar “Pancho” Cubillos and Carlos “Catracho” Mendoza pleaded guilty to their roles in the April 13, 2007, killing of Arpolonio Jarquin at a Travel Inn hotel. Jones said he would recommend that Cubillos get 25 years in prison and that Mendoza get 30 years behind bars.
Mendoza, 24, from Honduras, served as the lookout for an armed robbery of Jarquin, who was a drug dealer, Jones said. The 27-year-old Cubillos, one of the few U.S. citizens among those charged in the MS-13 case, fired two of the four shots that struck and killed Jarquin, Jones said.
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